From snail-mail to e-mail, and now to interactive e-bill, the humble invoice has come a long way.
It's been a couple of years since vendors in the e-billing industry started punting the concept of the 'interactive e-mail bill'. While we haven't quite got the term into any dictionaries yet, it's certainly getting good exposure from some of SA's major billers.
An interactive bill in this context is delivered by e-mail, and enables the recipient to 'do stuff', thereby interacting with their invoice or statement.
Whether the interaction means slicing and dicing to get different views of the information in the bill, or providing information back to the biller electronically, the key to the interactive e-bill is that it engages the customer.
The reality is that the technology is available to make e-mail bills far more functional, interactive and a lot more useful.
This includes dynamic content that does not appear on the paper bill, such as data summaries, transactional data sorting and grouping functionality, graphing, calculators, embedded spreadsheets and multiple hyperlinks to associated Web pages. This type of functionality used to be the domain of Web sites and data analysis tools, but this MIS-type information can also be delivered by e-mail.It's encouraging to see South African billers at the forefront of e-mail bill functionality in terms of the convergence of bill presentation and billing data analysis.
Two of SA's mobile service providers have launched their versions of the interactive e-mail bill, having realised it's no longer enough to offer an electronic version of their printed bill.
Cell C launched its interactive 'c-bill' in July. The bill is delivered by e-mail, as an encrypted attachment, which is viewed in the recipient's default browser. The c-bill opens to a branded landing page, which includes data summaries and special marketing messages.
From here, the user navigates through to the statement or invoice, and then through to the itemised billing. Cell C's c-bill allows the user to sort their itemised billing by call date, duration, number dialled and call charge.
This is useful for the subscriber who wants to know details about their call activity, such as longest call for the month, most expensive call for the month and most frequently dialled number. Accounts with more than one subscriber receive a consolidated c-bill with multiple invoices in one encrypted package.
The Cell C c-bill proves that e-mail billing can be functionally rich and engaging, providing high brand visibility for the biller, and promoting customer loyalty.
It's encouraging to see South African billers at the forefront of e-mail bill functionality.
The interactive version has a handy feature, which allows the customer to tag their calls as private or business calls in order to submit expense claims for business calls.
This is particularly useful for corporate clients as subscribers who are subsidised in some way by their business can select a number as a business number, and then view all calls they have marked for a subtotal on business calls.
On Vodacom's interactive itemised billing page, data can be sorted up or down by date, dialled number, duration and cost. Calls can be viewed either in their call type categories, or as one long list of calls, and then sorted appropriately.
Corporate customers can opt for a consolidated statement, with the invoices for all their lines linked to the statement. The handset holder can also get a separate invoice and itemised billing sent to their personal e-mail address.
All of this is aimed at assisting the company account administrator or the handset-holder with the practical activities they are most likely to do with their bill, such as investigating call activity, reconciling business calls and submitting expense claims.
The Vodacom interactive bill was implemented internally as well. All Vodacom staff now receive the interactive bill. Feedback has been positive and constructive in terms of suggesting ways to keep enriching Vodacom's interactive e-bill.
The interactive e-bill from Vodacom shows that flexibility, functionality and the practical application of e-billing technology can result in a strengthening of relationships with customers and employees.
Both of these companies are reaping the benefits of the interactive capability of e-mail billing. Dynamic, interactive content facilitates a degree of customer self-service, and encourages the customer to engage with the service provider through interaction with the monthly bill.
It's likely that other companies at the forefront of the 'digital migration' will follow suit, by introducing more functionality into their e-mail bill, and enabling their more savvy customers to quench their own thirst for drill-down information.
Switching from a paper billing to e-billing from Cell C or Vodacom is easy. Cell C customers can call the customer care line on 084 140 or e-mail email@example.com. Vodacom customers can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be moved onto the interactive e-bill. Remember to include a cell number and e-mail address.
Clients who are part of a corporate account can chat to the corporate account administrator about moving all lines onto e-billing. Just think of the trees that will be saved!